CIA unveils new rules for collecting information on Americans

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 18, 2017 6:26 PM

By Jonathan Landay

LANGLEY, Va. (Reuters) - The Central Intelligence Agency on Wednesday unveiled revised rules for collecting, analyzing and storing information on American citizens, updating the rules for the information age and publishing them in full for the first time.

The guidelines are designed "in a manner that protects the privacy and civil rights of the American people," CIA General Counsel Caroline Krass told a briefing at the agency's headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

The new rules were released amid continued public discomfort over the government's surveillance powers, an issue that gained prominence following revelations in 2013 by former government contractor Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency (NSA) secretly collected the communications data of millions of ordinary Americans.

The guidelines were published two days before President elect-Donald Trump is sworn into office and may be changed by the new administration. Trump has said he favors stronger government surveillance powers, including the monitoring of "certain" mosques in the United States.   

The CIA is largely barred from collecting information inside the United States or on U.S. citizens. But a 1980s presidential order provided for discrete exceptions governed by procedures approved by the CIA director and the attorney general.

Known as the "Attorney General Guidelines," the original rules over time became a "patchwork of policies and procedures" that failed to keep pace with the development of technology that can store massive amounts of digital data, said Krass.

In 2014, legislation gave U.S. intelligence agencies two years to develop procedures limiting the storage of information on U.S. citizens.

The new procedures, under development for years, were signed on Tuesday by CIA Director John Brennan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

While the 1982 guidelines were made public two years ago, sections were blacked out. The updated procedures were posted in full for the first time on the CIA's website on Wednesday.

The updated procedures include what the CIA must do when it clandestinely obtains a computer hard drive holding millions of pages of text, hours of videos and thousands of photos containing information on foreigners and U.S. citizens.

Because extensive time and many analysts are required to assess such large volumes of data, the new rules regulate the handling of material whose intelligence value cannot be promptly evaluated.

They also regulate how such data can be searched and create strict requirements for dealing with unevaluated electronic communications, which must be destroyed no later than five years after the are first examined.

The rules were unveiled a week after civil liberties groups decried new guidelines approved by the Obama administration expanding the NSA's ability to share communications intercepts with other U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA.

(Additional reporting by Warren Strobel; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)